Our Water Footprint
Tom Kostigen: Well, after my last book, You Are Here, where I went all around the world to figure out what we do in our daily lives and how that affects people, places and things in the most disparate of places, I figured out that the one running theme was water. It was on everyone's mind and really evident and apparent every place I went just how crucial the water issue is, and by that I mean shortages and pollutions. So it really is one of the natural resources that we need to be most concerned about.
SS: One of the things you describe in the book is the amount of water that we actually have available to us. Can you talk a little bit about that and why conservation and cleanliness of water are so important for all of us to focus on?
TK: About two-thirds of the world's population will experience some type of water shortage by 2025. We're seeing that because of melting of glaciers, and all sorts of run-offs where water gets put into the oceans and it's not recoverable. Here in the United States, about 36 states will experience some types of droughts within the next five years. We're seeing it in the middle of the country, where the Ogallala Aquifer is drying out—the Great Plains aquifer. Texas is now the driest state in the region—people don't have enough water for their cattle. Arizona is an arid state. In California, we're rationing water. So real, real problems and crises afoot.
SS: In your latest book you say, "The average person needs about 13 gallons of water per day to drink, wash and eat," but that Americans use almost 10 times that amount. That's not surprising considering a standard toilet uses about 4 to 6 gallons of water per flush and an average shower uses about 20 gallons of water, which is possibly 25 gallons of water used before we even make it to breakfast. It seems like the system is created in a way that we are going to use extreme amounts of water and not really be able to reduce down to 13 gallons, like you mention is what the average person needs. How can we get there?
TK: It comes through starting to take those shorter showers; it comes to making better and more informed choices. Also, it really comes down to luxury and consumption, like a lot of things. The better off you are, the more water that you'll likely use, for your now-bigger home and your lawn, the more clothes that you can afford, and the car that you have, and the more travel you partake in. All of these things equate to more strains on our natural resources. So how can we start to be a little bit more simplified in the water that we use? That comes down to literally turning off the tap. People often forget that 50 percent of the water that's used in the United States goes toward creating electricity. So turning off the lights when you leave a room not only saves the energy that's equated with that, but it also saves the water that's used to create that energy.